With the future of in-person learning becoming clearer, back-to-school shopping is in high gear. It's time for parents to get the essentials on their kids' lists, including newer additions like hand sanitizer.
Travel is also well underway. People are eager to make up for lost time during the pandemic, spending on flights, vacation rentals and more.
Whether you're loading up the kids for a family trip or getting them ready for school, August holds a lot of opportunities to spend strategically. Learn how to stay on track financially with these credit card tips.
Maximize value on back-to-school purchases
Back-to-school expenses can add up. This is especially true if you haven’t bought new clothes, shoes or other gear during the pandemic.
This year, parents with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of about $849 on items for their education, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation and Proper Insights & Analytics. Top expenses include electronics, clothing and shoes. For families with college students, the projected amount is about $1,200 on average.
For all school-related needs, there are a variety of ways to save money.
Save on interest with 0% intro APR
If you’re in the market for a new credit card and would welcome a break on interest payments, a 0% intro APR on a card like the $0-annual-fee Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card can provide a lengthy window. It offers a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 14.99% - 24.99% Variable APR. You can also defray some of the costs with the card’s sign-up bonus: New! Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, you’ll earn a healthy 2% cash back on all purchases.
For a slight bump in rewards, the $0-annual-fee Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card earns 3% in a category of your choice, like online shopping, and 2% on grocery stores and wholesale clubs for the first $2,500 spent in combined categories. All other purchases earn 1%. It also has an introductory offer: Get 0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles on purchases and balance transfers, and then the ongoing APR of 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. There’s a sign-up bonus, too.
Combine rewards with savings
Look for back-to-school discounts and pay with a rewards credit card for added value. Some retailers like Amazon.com, Best Buy and Apple currently have back-to-school deals. If your state also participates in tax-free holidays, you can combine those discounts and skip the sales tax by shopping on eligible days. Rake in even more value by shopping with apps like Ibotta or Rakuten that earn cash back when you shop with select merchants.
By combining these strategies with rewards on a credit card, you'll make up some of the costs. The $0-annual-fee Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, for example, can get you 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 spent per year; 2% back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores; and 1% back on all other purchases. Terms apply. So you get back some value on clothing, school supplies and gas when you chauffeur kids to school. As a cardholder, you may also find some useful AmEx Offers which get you discounts on purchases made with qualifying merchants when you activate. When you redeem the offer, the savings are applied to your account as a statement credit.
For a solid rate on all purchases, a flat-rate card like the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer can offer 2% cash back. You’ll earn 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay it back.
Take a trip and stay on budget
There are plenty of ways to save on a vacation this month or one you've got planned for Labor Day weekend in September. You can combine discounts and piggyback on your credit card’s incentives for more value.
If you’re looking to avoid expensive holiday rates, consider a road trip. You can camp or visit a national park to minimize expenses. In fact, on Aug. 25, national parks are waving admission in celebration of the National Park Service's birthday.
A credit card that earns rewards on gas and dining could be especially useful for a frugal Labor Day camping trip. The $0*-annual-fee U.S. Bank Altitude® Go Visa Signature® Card earns 4 points per dollar spent on dining; 2 points per dollar spent at grocery stores, gas stations and on eligible streaming services; and 1 point on everything else.
A more comfortable vacation
If you prefer to splurge a little, a vacation rental or hotel at a desirable destination may be the break you need. You can save money on food if you choose a vacation rental with access to a kitchen. But if your idea of a vacation doesn’t require cooking, putting expenses on a credit card that rewards travel and dining can offer some value.
The $95-annual-fee Citi Premier® Card earns rewards on travel, plus groceries or dining. It gets 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on air travel and hotels, 3 points at supermarkets, 3 points at gas stations, 3 points at restaurants and 1 point on all other purchases. It also has an annual hotel savings benefit that gets you $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more through ThankYou.com. Terms apply.
If you’re looking to earn a heap of points for a big-ticket vacation down the line, the $95-annual-fee Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card currently has a rich sign-up offer: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. It earns 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else.
To view rates and fees of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, see this page.